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I have been staying in a house for 9 months already, that I share with 4 other roommates. I have asked the landlord for a lease agreement on repeated occasions, but to this day I never received anything, so I do not have anything official proving that I gave him the 2-months worth deposit, and I do not feel protected at all if he suddenly decides to kick me out.

Question 1: what would be the best course of action to force the landlord to give me the requested lease agreement?

Now it gets a bit more complicated, and I hope it stays in the scope of this forum.

One of the other roommates has been kicked out of the house. Some legal action is ongoing now, as he refuses to leave the house. As he is the one paying most of the bills, the landlord asked all the other tenants not to give any more money to the other roommate, in order to pressure him financially and force him out. As a result he stopped paying for the bills and we had the power shut down 20 days ago.

When I asked the landlord about what he was planning to do regarding that, his answer was that it was not his business. To have him take action, I do not see any way of pressure except threatening not to pay my rent.

Edit: I might have not been really clear: the landlord asked us all to stop paying the other guy for the power bill, and that he was going to take care of it. As a result we are now in our 20th day without power, and the landlord just does not care. It may not change anything regarding law, but I definitely have a pretty shaddy landlord.

Question 2: if I plan on not paying my rent until the power is re-established, what is likely to happen, keeping in mind that I do not have any lease agreement. Am I protected in any way, or can the landlord just come in my room and throw everything away, or worse just point me with a gun and force me to move?

Question 3: how does the notion of "not paying rent" apply if I do not have a lease agreement?

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    It is my first post on this forum, if it is out of topic, or not well formatted, please tell me so in comment instead of simply down-voting please :) – realUser404 Jan 30 '18 at 18:38
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    Having someone in eviction proceedings be responsible for the utities is totally unworkable. Why don't you call up the power company and say "Hi, I'm _____, I moved into ____ and want to turn the power on." That is a normal tenant action and it establishes that you are a tenant, which voids any chance of claiming you are not. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 '18 at 1:19
  • Who did you pay the initial deposit to? Who do you monthly pay the rent to? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 '18 at 1:20
  • @Harper I paid the deposit and 1st month rent in cash as I had just moved in and had no account in the States at that time. Now I do a wire transfer to the landlord everymonth. – realUser404 Jan 31 '18 at 2:36
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I do not have anything official proving that I gave him the 2-months worth deposit

What did you do, hand him a wad of cash? Pay by check, and put what it's for on the memo line.

You've been there for nine months and there are several other people who can testify that you've been living there, so it would be difficult to claim that you aren't a renter. If you can show that the landlord is aware of your residence, that definitely helps even further, as does receiving mail there, registering to vote or with the DMV with that address, etc.

Question 1 : what would be the best course of action to force the landlord to give me the requested lease agreement?

You can't "force" someone to give you an agreement. That's kinda part of the definition of the word "agreement". If you find the conditions unacceptable, you can find another place to rent.

When I asked the landlord about what he was planning to do regarding that, his answer was that it was not his business.

It doesn't seem like it is. You could take the money you would have given to the other roommate, and give it to the power company instead. If paying for the utilities is part of the renters' responsibilities, and the renters are not paying for the utilities, then it's their choice to not have power. In California, landlords are required to make power available, but that just means that they can't interfere with you purchasing it from the power company, not that the landlord has to pay for it (if the landlord had agreed to pay for it, and isn't, then you can deduct the cost from the rent, but you can't simply withhold all rent, and your question indicates that the landlord hasn't agreed to pay for power anyway).

Am I protected in any way, or can the landlord just come in my room and throw everything away, or worse just point me with a gun and force me to move?

It would be difficult for the landlord to get rid of you, and would probably take several months to do legally. Performing an eviction himself, rather than getting the sheriff's department to do it, would expose him to serious charges, especially if a gun were used. Besides criminal charges, "If this or other unlawful methods, such as locking a tenant out or seizing his possessions before an eviction process has ended, are used to force a tenant to leave a property, a landlord may be subject to fees up to $100 per day of unlawful method use." http://homeguides.sfgate.com/tenants-rights-utility-billing-california-8073.html

However, while the legal process will take a long time, at the end you will still be liable for back rent, and you will have an eviction on your record, which will make it harder to rent in the future.

  • Thank you for your answer. Concerning my liability for back rent, since I have no lease agreement, am I really liable for any rent at all? – realUser404 Jan 30 '18 at 22:10
  • You are living in the house - you are liable for rent – Dale M Jan 30 '18 at 22:38
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    @DaleM Which rent? How much? I mean that is really confusing for me, where I come from, a lease agreement is not an option, and it contains the terms of the agreement, including the amount of the rent. Here I do not have anything of the kind, I can just say in font of court that we agreed on a free rent, it is my word against the landlord's, isn't it? – realUser404 Jan 30 '18 at 23:06
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    @realUser404 and when the landlord provides evidence that you have been paying $X per month your word looks like a lie – Dale M Jan 30 '18 at 23:26
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    @realUser404 If the landlord tells you to leave, and you say "I'm not a renter to begin with" and walk away, then perhaps you can evade paying rent. But to invoke California renter protection laws, you pretty much have to assert that you're a renter, which means you owe rent. And if you're not a renter and you occupy the premises anyway, you're a squatter, and the landlord can collect damages. One way or another, if you occupy the house, you will owe money to the landlord. – Acccumulation Jan 30 '18 at 23:27
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Get out

2 months bond is excessive and illegal in many jurisdictions

The owner of the house holding the bond is illegal in some jurisdictions, and should trigger warning bells regardless.

The owner asking for bond in a fashion that cannot be traced is almost certainly illegal, and should never be agreed to even where it is legal.

Going into a house without a lease agreement was a very risky thing to do. You are likely not protected by any of the protections that tenants get. If you forget your toast, and burn the house down, you are probably liable for the damage caused. If you have hundreds of thousands of dollars as a contingency fund available, then you are fine. Remember, IANAL, so seek one, particularly if you do end up, or have, damaged the house significantly. And of course, you living there without a lease agreement is almost certainly illegal.

The above may not be that helpful to someone already in your situation. Regardless, it illustrates the seriousness of the situation you are in. This house, landlord and situation are irredeemable.

Your focus should not be on getting this guy to give you a lease, it should be on:

  • Finding alternative accommodation as soon as you can, and:

  • Either leaving in a way that makes it likely you will get your bond back, or;

  • Finding a way to leave, owing 2 months rent worth of stuff which can be taken out of your bond. Do you pay rent in advance, or in arrears? How much do you owe in utility bills that you have been avoiding paying due to the confusion? Have you done any damage to the house.

The first option there means you will almost certainly lose your bond - the owner doesn't seem to have any reason to give you your money back.

The second option will almost certainly result in you losing the option to use this person as a rental referee. You should check California's laws, or consult a lawyer. If this option works out perfectly, there is no cost, but it could backfire. Proceed with caution.

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    It's been tagged California. A lot of your assumptions and statements are either unreasonable or outright wrong. Two months is the maximum bond allowed for an unfurnished rental, to start with. – Nij Jan 31 '18 at 8:59
  • Agree w/@Nij. Answers should stick to factual statements and should be linked to sources. Your assertions are absurd in a few instances like the one Nij pointed out above. For OP, if you do attempt to stop paying until utilities are reestablished, don't simply withhold the cash, but rather put it into escrow as outlined here: nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/how-rent-withholding-works.html. Also, seek an attorney and don't use anything here as legal advice! – A.fm. Feb 4 '18 at 9:39
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Force a lease?

Hard to force. In a consent based economy, the surest way is to pay him to or give him other considerations.

However if he has already signed a lease with another housemate for the entire house, he wouldn't be able to write you a lease which contradicts it.

What you need, at the very least, is written acknowledgement of the cash you paid earlier, and which characterizes it as either a deposit or last month's rent.


How does depriving the landlord of rent work?

See "pay or other considerations", refusing to pay may contradict trying to get something out of him. Or it may work out as leverage, as he's going through the hell of dealing with an eviction now, and doesn't want another tenant in revolt.


What does rent mean without a lease?

Lacking a written lease it is a verbal agreement, and those are valid. You have a basically fair arrangement where you get space to live and he gets sensible money. The fact that you have done it in the past proves the deal. No court is going to rewrite that into a one-sided deal.


How do we untangle the utility mess?

You (as a group) need to be responsible for that yourselves, it is not the landlord's job to provision utilities (You-all and he could agree to subcontract that to him, which given the housemate drama, may be the way to go).

Regardless, entrusting the utilities to a person who is being evicted is extremely foolish and definitely not working. At the least, someone else needs to take responsibility for that.

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